The Hidden Spirituality of The Princess Bride
Happy Valentines Day! 33-year-old spoiler warning here, but I guess that goes without saying.
Now — to start it off, the Princess Bride is a story within a story, and if we go deep enough — it’s a story within a story within a story within a story, inviting us to look deeper at our own lives, and to break free of the attachments to the life stories we live out on a day to day basis, and learning to identify at a higher level. But the main focus of the Princess Bride is two main points — a story of true love and all of the forms that true love manifests, and a story of sovereignty.
On its surface, the Princess Bride appears like a fun take on the traditional “damsel in distress” narrative. Girls in Trouble, guy’s gotta rescue her. We have an almost 95% male cast in this movie — and yet the buttercups role here is foundational to the deep spiritual themes underlying this story.
When the story begins, we see Buttercup in a state of sovereign freedom. She can do what she wants, live as she pleases. Like so many movies often depict the female character needing a man to be fulfilled, here we see Buttercup as already accomplished in her life. This is a fundamental lesson right off the bat — that true love happens when two people are content with themselves first, are already in a good relationship with themselves. If they are attached and needing someone else to fulfill them and make them feel okay — true love doesn’t have the opportunity to blossom naturally.
Fortunately, in the story, we are presented with — it does. As Buttercup makes requests of her farm boy Westley, he responds, “As you wish,” — which she comes to realize means “I love you.” Westley doesn’t push himself on her, and she slowly begins to realize that she loves him too. The way that this movie opens sets the stage for the rest of the film because without true love, there is no story.
I also wish to draw attention to the higher story, outside of the book for a moment. The boy, at one point, interrupts the grandfather’s reading and remarks about there being kissing in this book! Not something he’s really into. It’s curious because of the transformation of the boy by the end of the story, but let us continue with the main story for now.
In addition to the main ideas of true love being the benevolent force in this film, so too do we see the antagonist force soon coming into play, which is the patriarchal energy of masculine dominance. It’s not so much the people, although it is made manifest personally in Prince Humperdink and Count Rugen, it also manifests in Wesley. You see, shortly after we are introduced to these characters, Wesley goes off into the world to seek his fortune so that he can provide a good life for buttercup and himself. While this appears to be a noble cause on the surface that drives the plot, we also must ask — why couldn’t they do that together?
From Wesley leaving, it sets the stage for Buttercup to be thrust into this same masculine dominant world as she discovers that the dread pirate Roberts killed Wesley, and soon ends up soon to be married to Prince Humperdink. A man who does not value her as a person seeks to control her, manipulate her, and even kill her, all in the name of his gain. This is why sovereignty is actually at the heart of this story — as we see the plot focus on, and spiral around, various masculine forces attempting to capture or dominate the feminine. On the other hand, as Wesley seeks to rescue his damsel, what he is fighting for is not her specifically, but her right to choose — her freedom and her sovereignty. Buttercup herself also represents a more active participant in this, while she does seem powerless against the might of Humperdink’s forces, she is not silent and accepting of the fate that is thrust upon her, but is brave, courageously speaking up for the truth, and what she wants.
A continued thing that is brought to our attention throughout the entirety of the movie is that in his heart — Wesley loves Buttercup. It’s this love in his heart that keeps him motivated and able to overcome any obstacle, whether it’s fencing with Inigo, surviving the terrors of the fire swamp, or being tortured to maximum limit break overdrive. In all of these circumstances, the love in his heart never goes out, even when he dies. We see this spiritual lesson here because even if it’s romanticized in this movie, many traditions teach us the virtues of love, and that love itself is one of — if not the most significant force in all of the universe. If we have love in our hearts, we will steer our lives straight and right — and this movie can help to remind us to connect with that inner love, so that we too may overcome these obstacles we face in our daily lives.
In addition to the pure love that blossoms between Westley and Buttercup, we also see desire manifesting throughout the film in another way, in the form of brotherly bonding. This is also important to discuss, especially for Valentine’s day, because many of us in the world have not found that perfect partner yet, and what’s more — not everyone even wants that to begin with.
So the thing here is that both Wesley, Inigo, and Fezzik are all brought together through various circumstances, and at first, Inigo and Fezzik are Wesley’s enemies, if only because they were hired to be so. Nevertheless, the enemies become friends, and they set off to the right some wrongs together. It is through their shared companionship that they can accomplish things that would have been much more difficult to do on their own. Without Inigo and Fezzik, how would Wesley come back to life? Without Wesley, how would Inigo have found the six-fingered man?
Through scenes like these, we are reminded of the spirit of human connection, and that when we band together for a noble cause, significant challenges become even more accessible. There is a phrase that goes “faster alone, perfect together,” and when we learn to embrace each other, share the load, work together, we can accomplish much more than if we try to do everything ourselves. While the first half of this film was more of a solo journey, the second half is about the journey together and the companionships we make along the way, which is just as important in life.
Speaking of Inigo — we find that he demonstrates to us the power of affirmations. Inigo continually remarks to himself this same phrase, over and over. “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father, prepare to die.” The fact that he continuously tells himself this, he is preparing himself and keeping himself focused on his goal of defeating the six-fingered man. He affirms to himself over and over, and this is my destiny, this is my fate, I will avenge the death of my father. The positive energy of his line teaches us the power of affirmations too. If we wake up every day and tell ourselves that we are creating a specific life for ourselves, perhaps it is to meet true love, maybe it is to create great wealth, it is probably to warm the hearts of others — then we keep ourselves focused on the path that we are on. Affirmations are powerful because they directly program the subconscious mind with direction, and this assists us in creating our realities with more clarity and focus.
And now, let us speak for a moment on Vizzini. A classic and hilariously overused line of his “Inconceivable!” demonstrates the nature of arrogance and pride. By being represented and shown to us in this way, it teaches us — the viewers — not to identify with these qualities, or show it to us if we already do. Over and over, Vizzini remarks about how brilliant he is, how he makes these intelligent people (i think it was Plato and Aristotle?) seem like idiots compared to him. He thinks he is so smart, but that’s just it — he only believes he is so intelligent — where a sincere wise person knows that they know nothing. This is doubly more interesting that he repeats ‘Inconceivable”, because how could a person who knows everything find anything to be indeed inconceivable? Ultimately — this arrogance is his undoing, and Wesley easily outsmarts him in a simple game of wits. Once again, reminding us not to brag or pretend we have all of the answers — know what we do know, humble ourselves before others who we can stand to learn from, and strive for good always.
Finally — the story outside of the romance between the Grandfather and the Grandson. We see here two valuable lessons. One is the transformation of the boy and his growth and emotional maturity. In the beginning, he remarks to his grandfather about how ew gross! There’s kissing in this book, nasty! And by the end of it, well maybe kissings not so bad after all. He learns to have respect for the emotional health of the characters, not just the action and adventure.
Second — we see our final manifestation of true love. You see, true love is not just two people falling in love and living happily ever after, and we see this when the boy asks his grandfather to come back and reread the story. “As you wish,” — the grandfather responds, bringing the heartwarming story to a close. In this, we see that the grandfather truly loves his grandson, and is more than happy to spend time with him, read him a story, and make this heartfelt connection. We learn here that love permeates through many layers of human contact, as they demonstrate the wisdom of the 10 of Disks — Legacy beautifully. The understanding that real wealth is not money, but the lasting connections we create throughout our lives, and the passing along of love and wisdom from generation to generation. Further, in the completion of our old stories, we are free to forge new ones.
So as we bring this week’s episode to a close, I ask you with kindness and humility — what story are you writing into your life? Affirm it for yourself now by sharing it in the comments, and while you’re at it — let us know what other episodes you’d like to see on Hidden Spirituality. Happy Valentines Day, and we’ll see you next week!